Bizen is one of Japan's six most famous kilns with a history going back some one thousand years to the Heian period (794-1185), when this ware was already in production.
At the end of the Muromachi period (1392-1573), the rustic, undecorated qualities of this ware met with particular favor among the tea fraternity, resulting in the making of many tea bowls and other articles for tea ceremony use. Bizen Yaki became more widely known with the protection of the local clan from about the middle of the 18th century. And this ware has thrived ever since, with a number of Bizen potters including Kanashige Toyo, Fujiwara Kei, and Yamamoto Toshu being recognized officially as Living National Treasures in the early part of the Showa period (1926-1989).
The attributes of Bizen are many. Its natural look and warmth are expressive of the very earth from which it comes. Pieces of Bizen can also be used in so many ways. The delicate flavors of sake are not lost when stored in a Bizen flask and flowers in a Bizen vase last three times longer, while water kept in it remains fresh for much longer. But what is really special about Bizen Yaki is the happy accidents which occur during firing. It is, in a sense, a ""natural art"" as no two pieces of Bizen Yaki are the same, the accidents which happen during firing often producing unexpected changes of color and surface effect.
The characteristics of these potteries include their rustic and solemn style, the warmth of their sheen and their ease of use, but their most distinctive feature can be said to be the deformations and color variations (“yohen”) taking place during firing. It’s these variations, that occur naturally and produce changes in the surface and in the color of the pottery, that make Bizen yaki natural works of art, no two of which are exactly the same.
How to make
Bizen yaki is baked without being glazed nor painted. Kilns used for baking are ascending kilns in which red pine is burnt to create a temperature of about 1230 degrees and though the exact period depends on the size of the kiln, wood will continue to be burnt for about two weeks before and after. The surface changes that will take place during that time in the pottery due to the combined effects of heat, flames and ash are the above mentioned “yohen” deformations.